Velcro, popsicles and fermentation all have something in common: they’re products of happy accidents. The same goes for glitch art: an unintentional distortion made by a digital crash has led to an entire, mind-bending sub-genre of graphic design.
Glitch art is a great opportunity for brands. Not only is the form visually stunning, the inherent provocative nature of glitch art creates a memorable image behind a product. Although this DIY-focused, haphazard-looking art form seems to operate without guidelines, it’s important to understand where it all came from and ways to begin if you’re new to working with glitches.
What is glitch art?
Glitch art is a visual style characterized by using digital or analog errors for aesthetic purposes, whether that be intentional (that is, “faking glitch” and obtaining a similar aesthetic through design) or by accident (a true manifestation inside of the system without human intervention).
These beautiful happy accidents have proven that electronic technologies are still open mediums for expression and creativity and have consequently created another avenue for designers to reimagine products, logos, typography and much more.
Terrence Morash, creative director of Shutterstock explains: “There’s a controlled imperfection to [glitch art], and it’s a reminder of the technical elements of design. It visualizes technology as having a combination of textures and patterns but without perfection.”
There’s a controlled imperfection to [glitch art], and it’s a reminder of the technical elements of design. It visualizes technology as having a combination of textures and patterns but without perfection.
The history of glitch art
The term “glitch” itself originates with engineers and astronauts to explain faults within the technology they were working with: spaceship and rocket hardware. But the visual aesthetic can be traced much further back, to the beginning of the 20th century through distorted forms in cubist paintings, abstract short films and pixel-like rug designs akin to 8-bit video game landscapes.
Fast forward to the modern day, where we often see this distorted imagery in pop culture as a collective acknowledgment of how technology has involved itself in our everyday lives and how easily destructible it is.
Rosa Menkmen, author of The Glitch Moment(um), explains the duality of glitch art in pop culture: “On the one hand, there are the tactical and critical artists who use the technique to criticize popular culture, and on the other hand the technique now is very much alive and part of this same culture.”
On the one hand, there are the tactical and critical artists who use the technique to criticize popular culture, and on the other hand the technique now is very much alive and part of this same culture.
Glitch art makes a comeback
Glitch art as a movement could be compared to that of punk music. Its revival was also challenging media that previously seemed out of reach for many: glossy, flawless, unrealistic.
But glitch art has become much more than a movement to celebrate imperfections and comment on contemporary culture.
It has permeated even through mainstream media—an interesting progression considering that it has often emerged in opposition to pop culture and trends.
But the popularity of glitch art does convey a widespread acknowledgement of system failures and our own vulnerable and often fragile relationship with technology.
The design world has now fully embraced this technocentric aesthetic, with many publications predicting that glitch art will continue to show up in more and more unconventional ways in the upcoming years.
How brands can use glitch art
Because of its distortion, glitch art is mysterious by nature, and brands can take advantage of this to create a fascination in their look. There is also a timelessness that comes with the paradoxical balance of being both futuristic and retro. But more important than the aesthetic points glitch art can garner, brands will have to consider whether the rebellious, provocative values associated with glitch art are right for their audience.
This tech-driven, rebellious and largely political kind of art has the ability to reach an audience that connects deeply with resistance and movement against the grain. Examples can range from Pokemon glitch zines that illustrate nostalgia through a warped lens to tech companies focused on innovation and transparency, whose products promise to revolutionize the way we do things.
Glitch art does not always have to be full of bold distortions, and its subtler incarnations can be useful when you want to capture the vibe of the glitch movement without committing to a visual style that might be too avant-garde for practical branding.
Glitch art design techniques
There are specific technical effects we often see with glitches, and you will want to replicate these techniques in order to create a convincing glitch art design.
At the end of the day, whether the glitch is intentional or not, “broken” images come from broken data, and this error is what you’re trying to communicate through artificial means.
With that said, let’s walk through the most common styles of glitch art design.
Computer images are made up of pixels, and when several of those pixels misfire, you end up with a glitch. The effect of pixelation is most productive when attempting to anonymize an aspect of your design, leaving the exterior and abstract views of the space within.
By simulating the phenomenon where a gap in the body of a film camera allows light to leak into the normally light-proof film chamber (thus exposing the film with extra light), designers can create a burnout effect in their design. This brings a dynamic feature to a design if you are creating points of interest through shadows or reflections.
By layering multiple images on top of each other, designers can execute an ethereal, ghost-in-the-machine effect. Choose combinations and placement accordingly, and it’s important to be aware of use of color within this application so as not to overwhelm the subjects of the image.
Noise and grain
Designers can increase grainy artifacts, or noise, to recreate the appearance of an old film or an analog broadcast. One of the most familiar examples of this glitch is the grainy strip that appears on old VHS videos.
Liquified and blurred use of chromatic color communicates a system failure. Because color on its own is so visually demanding, pay attention to the other elements of your design to make sure the final result isn’t too loud or busy to convey what you are trying to achieve.
As with color usage, blurred and unpredictable textures as well as asymmetrical geometries give off that feeling that a piece of tech was lost in translation, an aesthetic flaw. These can work great as background images or as entrancing abstract pieces at the foreground of a design.
Choose typefaces that communicate malfunction—think corrupted VHS. Uppercase letters with jagged or wavy lines and fuzzy effects around the lettering can also symbolize movement.
Alternatively, you can distort your own lettering by splicing it, duplicating the letters to create a double exposed result, adding a soft neon shadow, elongating or merging the letterforms.
Crash your design the right way with glitch art
While glitch art may seem like some flashy modern trend, it isn’t going away any time soon. Because the more technology advances, the more opportunities there will be for that technology to break down and for designers to reinterpret these flaws visually.
Perhaps one of the most alluring aspects of this art form is its highly experimental nature, even though it creates a challenging task for its maker. The process of making great glitch might seem daunting, but the rewards of aesthetic innovation are well worth the effort. As glitch art and technology progresses, new territories into the unknown will always be presenting themselves in this ever-expanding arena of design.